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Some Safe Havens For A Potential Meltdown

Summary

During the last one and a half month, the market has been experiencing remarkably high volatility.

Most investors claim that they do not pay any attention to the short-term gyrations of the market; but unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

This article provides some safe havens for a potential meltdown.

During the last one and a half month, the market has been experiencing remarkably high volatility. To be sure, while the volatility index, VIX, hovered in the range 12-18 most of the time during this 6-year bull market, it has shifted to the range 20-28 since mid-August. Therefore, it is only natural that most investors are looking for safe havens, i.e., stocks that are resistant to market meltdowns and will provide exceptional returns on a potential rebound. Of course, some investors will claim that they stick to their investments without paying any attention to the short-term gyrations of the market; but unfortunately, this is much easier said than done.

Tobacco companies

Tobacco companies are particularly resistant to recessions, as the demand for their products is pronouncedly inelastic. This defensive nature is clearly reflected on the behavior of the tobacco stocks during the recent correction of the market. More specifically, while S&P (NYSEARCA:SPY) has lost 10% since mid-August, Altria (NYSE:MO) has lost just 2% and Reynolds American (NYSE:RAI) keeps posting new all-time highs.

Thanks to their resistant profits and predictable cash flows, Altria and Reynolds are offering high dividend yields, 4.2% and 3.3%, respectively. In addition, Altria has raised its dividend every year since it span off Philip Morris (NYSE:PM) and has a relatively high payout ratio (80%); but it is expected to grow its EPS by 8% next year, so it is likely to maintain its generous dividend. Reynolds has a somewhat lower payout ratio (72%) and is expected to grow its EPS by 15% next year, so it will almost certainly keep offering a high dividend. It should be noted that both stocks are currently trading at elevated forward P/E ratios, in the range 18-19, so they are not great bargains. However, thanks to their resistant nature, they provide great support to a portfolio and peace of mind during periods of high market volatility.

Total (NYSE:TOT) is an oil major with markedly defensive attributes. To be sure, while other oil producers are suffering from the collapse of the oil price, Total saw its downstream earnings triple in the first half of the year, while it also generated 10% of its total earnings from marketing & services. Thus, it now generates only half of its earnings from its upstream segment; while it generates the other half from refining and marketing & services. It is also worth noting that its upstream earnings held much better than those of its peers. More specifically, while the upstream earnings of Exxon Mobil (NYSE:XOM), Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and BP (NYSE:BP) plunged 69%, 86% and 88%, respectively, during H1-2015, the upstream earnings of Total decreased only 52%. This is why the company has exceeded the analysts' estimates by a wide margin (10%-33%) in the last 4 quarters.

It is also remarkable that Total exhibits a rock-solid support around $40. Every time the stock approaches this level, it enjoys excessive bid and always rewards its shareholders with a strong rebound. That's why it has never fallen below $40 during the last 12 years, even though it has gone through the Great Recession and the recent collapse of the oil price. The reason for this phenomenal support is obviously its resistant profitability mentioned above, which also results in a consistent dividend around $3 (6.8% yield at the current stock price).

Travelers Companies

The two major reasons for the ongoing correction of the market are the concerns over a decelerating Chinese economy and the imminent hikes of the interest rates, which will reduce the attractiveness of stocks vs. bonds. While both reasons have their merits, Travelers Companies (NYSE:TRV) has nothing to be afraid of. To be sure, according to a report of Goldman Sachs, if China decelerates from its current growth pace of 7% to 6%, the US GDP will be affected by just 0.06%. Moreover, Travelers generates about 2/3 of its earnings from its fixed-maturity portfolio; and hence, its earnings are highly predictable and resistant and will only benefit from the imminent hikes of interest rates.

Finally, as the company has an aggressive share buyback program in place, which reduces the share count by about 10% per year, a temporary correction of the stock will enhance the efficiency of the program and result in even higher EPS growth and long-term appreciation of the stock. Therefore, the shareholders of this stock are facing a win-win situation in a potential further correction; either the stock will not follow the correction of the market or it will, in which case the share repurchases will be even more efficient.

Conclusion

The investors who try to avoid the particularly high volatility that currently surrounds the markets, should seek for stocks that have resistant profitability and preferably those with a high, sustainable dividend or an aggressive share buyback program in place. Such stocks usually outperform the market during corrections and help their shareholders avoid the psychological stress during rough times, which sometimes leads to disastrous decisions, i.e., selling at the worst time.


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